Tag Archives: Hungarian

17*. SON OF THE WHITE MARE (1981)

Fehérlófia

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“In my animated films the design of every frame is of great importance, as if it would be a painting. Most of the time, and particularly in a mythical, fabulous context, my human characters, even lead characters, are only a minor part of the whole thing.” —Marcell Jankovics

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DIRECTED BY: Marcell Jankovics

FEATURING: Voices of György Cserhalmi, Vera Pap, Gyula Szabó, Ferenc Szalma, Mari Szemes, Szabolcs Tóth

PLOT: Fleeing hunters in a forest, a pregnant white mare takes refuge in a knot of the World Tree. For seven years plus seven she feeds her son, Treeshaker, before he embarks on a quest to destroy the three dragons that have captured the three princesses of the kingdom. Joined by his brothers Stonecrumbler and Irontemperer, he seeks the entrance to the Underworld in order to battle the monsters.

BACKGROUND:

  • The narrative takes its inspiration from around half-a-dozen variations of a folk legend (which itself exists in over fifty forms). The canonical version is “Fehérlófia” as related by the Hungarian poet László Arany, though Jankovics’ rendition often departs from this source.
  • Jankovics’ decision to adopt an experimental animation style proved to be a double-edged sword. The film’s singular appearance grew famous only after years of word-of-mouth percolation; it was unmarketable at the time of its release, and Jankovics found only fleeting acclaim (and no work whatsoever) outside of his native Hungary.
  • Jankovics discounts any assertions about having taken psychedelics, claiming instead he merely wished to respect the fantastical grandeur of the source material.
  • The titular White Mare takes on a warm, pinkish glow when near her son. This tonal effect was lost until the film’s recent restoration, the mare having appeared simply white in earlier washed-out prints.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Treeshaker striding confidently behind row upon row of modern buildings in silhouette as a horrible brown smog obscures the scene: a mythical hero boldly facing modernity.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Bubble-beard gnome; twelve-headed skyscraper monster

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It might be impossible to find another feature-length animation that is simultaneously so stylized while feeling so organic, or with such vibrant colors telling so heroic a tale. Every cel is a stunning piece of art that seamlessly morphs into the next jaw-dropper. The curious source material lends a further twist: ancient Central European folklore channeled through a 20th-century animator toiling behind the Iron Curtain.


Re-release trailer for Son of the White Mare

COMMENTS: Marcell Jankovics’ introductory dedication declares Continue reading 17*. SON OF THE WHITE MARE (1981)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SON OF THE WHITE MARE (1981)

Fehérlófia

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Son of the White Mare has been officially added to the Apocryphally Weird list. Please visit the official entry.

DIRECTED BY: Marcell Jankovics

FEATURING: Voices of György Cserhalmi, Vera Pap, Gyula Szabó, Ferenc Szalma, Mari Szemes, Szabolcs Tóth

PLOT: A divine white mare gives birth to a son, the Tree-Shaker, who is destined to destroy three dragons in the Underworld who are holding captive three mythical princesses.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Marcell Jankovics puts the limitless possibilities of animation on display for this mythic tale. Abstraction and form combine to move the story along in a way that would be stylistically impossible with any other medium, all infused with the most vibrant palette I’ve ever seen in a movie. Son of the White Mare‘s epic nature and ancient roots are perfectly represented by the timeless feel of the nonstop delights to the eyes.

COMMENTS: This movie, I’ve been told, has been hovering around the site’s periphery for quite a while now, with us forebearing discussion until we could watch a high-quality, non-YouTube posting of Jankovics’ iconic masterpiece. With the 4K, re-mastered version from Arbelos Film which screened at the tail-end of this year’s Fantasia Festival, that time has come. Some quick research suggests that a disc release has not yet been determined, but considering the three years of work put into the project by a dedicated multi-national team (under the guidance of Marcell Jankovics himself), it’s bound to made available. Some day soon. Like in early 2020. Hopefully.

In the meantime, let me try to regale you with my poor words what Jankovics and his crew put together almost forty years ago. The film begins with a flash, as a pregnant white horse flees across the screen from a horde of nasty, jagged pursuers. Finding protection in the Earth Tree, she bears a human son, an eager boy who grows to become known as “Tree-Shaker.” He is told the story of his father’s downfall and, after finding his brothers (“Stone-Crumbler” and “Iron Temperer”), he looks for the entrance to the Underworld after outsmarting the Seven Colored Gnome by stealing his beard. With his brothers’ help he forges the beard into a mighty weapon that aids him as he seeks to free the kingdom’s princesses trapped in castles, guarded jealously by twisted versions of their former beaus.

It would be next to impossible to describe how magnificent the animation is. Much of its motion defies Euclidean geometry. To get the vibe, I recommend an image search. But even beyond its presentation, its narrative is well worth a mention. The time-tested methods of storytelling—tasks and goals in groups of three; heroes of impossible skill and origins; ultimate good fighting ultimate evil—are all present. This is not surprising; what took me aback (in a good way) was the fusion of this ancient technique with the interwoven warnings against modernity. Of the three multi-headed dragons fought by Tree-Shaker, two are manifestations of modern man: a seven-headed, dozen-gunned tank beast and a truly menacing, twelve-headed, ever-shifting skyscraper monster. Obviously there is a message here, one that slipped passed the well-practiced Communist censors of the day.

If you’ve patiently waited to watch this movie, please continue to do so. The impending release will be of a print that doesn’t look like it has aged at all. I know that I can get very excited about movies that others find ho-hum (or worse); but, for those of you who’ve seen some version of Son of the White Mare, and to those many others who have doubtless heard its praises sung on high, it lives up to whatever expectations of wonderment you could possibly harbor. Whoever gets the task of certifying this gem, I hope they’re up to it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The art style is incredible: pastel and clashing colours are everywhere and are used to paint very trippy and beautiful art. The animation is fluid, with shapes morphing into others and back seamlessly – a road becomes a snake, the gap between two faces changes into a goblet – but these must be seen to grant them their full justice.”–Simon Brand, PopOptiq

CAPSULE: RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Milorad Krstic

FEATURING: Voices of Iván Kamarás, Gabriella Hámori, Zalán Makranczi

PLOT: Ruben Brandt is a psychiatrist for a group of skilled art thieves who show their appreciation by stealing thirteen masterpieces in an effort to help their therapist conquer his nightmares.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Ruben Brandt, Collector is weird, in a way, but not the way we’re looking for, and not the way you might expect.

COMMENTS: It begins with a heist gone wrong: Mimi (Gabriella Hámori) has been hired to steal a priceless diamond from the Louvre, but gets distracted by a beautiful Egyptian hand-fan halfway through the job. The ensuing chase through downtown Paris with Detective Kowalski (Zalán Makranczi) in pursuit is cleverer and better paced than most anything in modern action films. Dreams pile in references to the classics as Ruben Brandt (Iván Kamarás) copes with ever-worsening nightmares. Mafioso scumbags are dying to break into the art market, and there’s a “Cold War Café” frequented by ex-CIA and KGB spooks. The big-hearted looters assembled by Brandt include a thief with an overeating problem who is also handily (and literally) two-dimensional. The Art-Deco/Cubist world of Ruben Brandt, Collector is nothing short of amazing to look at.

But there is an issue looming over all of this: is this hyper-stylized, incredibly erudite cartoon weird? Every frame is arranged for maximum impact, and the tips-of-the-hat to famous artworks are innumerable. (Well, perhaps not innumerable: the end credits indicate that over fifty pieces are explicitly referenced within the movie, in addition to the ten or so nods to movies ranging from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to Rambo: First Blood.) It is an odd and beautiful movie to behold, but the script compromises the atmosphere, making it feel at times as if it’s intended for a child audience. “Humorous” exchanges between the characters and the closing heist sequence are reminiscent of cartoons I’ve watched with my young niece. Still, I was happy to just sit back and soak in the glorious visual feast before me.

This imbalance is forgivable, and also makes perfect sense: Milorad Krstic is first and foremost a painter. By branching out into narrative cinema, he proves he can carry a visual motif for a whole movie. He also has an ear for music, with unlikely rock classics (like Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs’ “L’il Red Riding Hood”) and novel pop covers (Haley Reinhart’s version of “Oops, I Did It Again” turns it into a cabaret classic) augmenting Collector‘s off-kilter alternate reality. If Krstic ever pairs his work with a compelling script, we’d be certain to have the animated film of the decade on our hands.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an action thriller as surreal as it is familiar.”–Jared Mobarak, Buffalo Vibe (contemporaneous)

345. WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (2000)

Werckmeister harmóniák

“There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.
Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”

–William Shakespeare, “The Merchant of Venice,” V., 1., 58-63

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz,

PLOT: Soft-spoken János takes care of his uncle, an aging musician and music theorist, in a small Hungarian town. One day a modest circus, featuring only a stuffed whale and a mysterious freak known as “the Prince” as its attractions, comes to town. János is impressed by the majesty of the whale and sneaks in to see it one night, and overhears the Prince declaring “Terror is here!”

Still from Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

BACKGROUND:

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Whale’s massive dead eye, juxtaposed with tiny humans.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Drunks enact the Solar System; eye of the Whale; the Prince speaks

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Werckmeister Harmonies is a bleak and obliquely allegorical parable in which a Whale and a Prince bring a local apocalypse to a poor but peaceful Hungarian town. A political horror movie that creeps over you slowly, wrapping you in a fog of mysterious dread.

Fan-made trailer for Werckmeister Harmonies

COMMENTS: How many times have you been at a bar at closing Continue reading 345. WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (2000)

CAPSULE: ON BODY AND SOUL (2017)

Teströl és lélekröl 

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Ildikó Enyedi

FEATURING: Alexandra Borbély, Géza Morcsányi

PLOT: A slaughterhouse manager and the new quality assurance inspector, a functional autistic savant woman, pursue a relationship after realizing they share the same dream (literally).

Still from On Body and Sould (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “shared dream” conceit, the film’s only truly weird feature, serves little more than as a plot device to bring the unlikely lovers together.

COMMENTS: On Body and Soul begins with intimate footage of two deer tromping through a snowy woods by a lake. The buck tries to nuzzle the doe, but gets little response, as she meanders away searching for a tuft of grass. This opening segues into scenes of unsuspecting cattle at an abattoir being led to the killing floor. We then meet the new temporary meat quality inspector, Maria, a stand-offish but pretty blonde. She soon causes trouble by grading every side of beef a “B,” because they are two to three millimeters fattier than regulations—technically correct, by the book, but also not what financial manager Endre wants to hear. Maria also has great difficulty choosing a place to sit in the cafeteria for lunch, searching out the loneliest corner, and when Endre tries to talk to her, their conversation is awkward and strange. At home at night, Maria arranges salt and pepper shakers on her kitchen counter and recreates the day’s conversations, puzzling out their social significance. She’s definitely not neurotypical.

The true plot is set in motion when, through an absurd contrivance (the theft of bull aphrodisiacs from the slaughterhouse), an outside psychiatrist is brought in, analyzes the workers’ dreams as part of her profiling, and discovers, to her disbelief, that Endre and Maria share the exact same dream night after night, of two deer in a snowy glade. Other than the romantic notion of two souls linked by fate and the thematic connection to the apparently thin line between bodied beasts and soulful people, the happenings in the dream glade don’t intrude on the rest of the story, and are soon laid aside. Instead, Maria, conflicted by feelings for Endre she doesn’t understand, sets out on an often-humorous journey to expand her experience of life beyond the narrow focus of her own mind. She observes lovers spooning at the park as if she were studying mating rituals at a zoo. She tries to understand the appeal of music (eventually finding a single song she likes) before connecting with her own body by discovering the pleasure of lying in the grass while a sprinkler waters her. Simple Endrem, who has a womanizing past, can’t figure this strange woman out, and tries several times to end the burgeoning relationship, despite their uncanny dream connection.

The attraction here is Alexandra Borbély‘s fascinating portrayal of Maria. She makes expressionlessness an art form while portraying a character type who is seldom, if ever, seen on screen—and if so, never in the role of a romantic lead. The philosophical implications never get too deep, and the film may overlong for its slim storyline, but those looking for an offbeat (if not weird) arthouse romance should find this a tasty cup of meat.

The producers of On Body and Soul signed an exclusive contract to stream the film on Netflix, so it won’t be available on home video or other platforms for the foreseeable future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…its unwatchably brutal opening sequences are there to stun you, or in the butcher’s sense tenderise you, so that you hardly notice the implausible weirdness of human behaviour in the workplace scenes that follow… Endre and Maria’s affair is at its most romantic when it is at its most eccentric and weird.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

281. HUGO THE HIPPO (1975)

Hugó, a Víziló

“If you accept a strange story told to you as true,

Then a certain enlightenment comes to you.”

Hugo the Hippo theme “It’s Really True” (as sung by Marie Osmond)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bill Feigenbaum, József Gémes

FEATURING: Voices of , Burl Ives, Ronnie Cox, Robert Morley

PLOT: The Sultan of Zanzibar kidnaps a herd of African hippopotami and relocates them to Arabia to defend his harbor from sharks. After the shark menace is ended and the city prospers, the citizens forget about the hippos, until one day the hungry herds’ excursion to eat local farmers’ crops leads the Sultan’s evil Vizier Aban-Khan to organize a slaughter of the beasts. Only the youngest, Hugo, escapes; he flees to Dar es Salaam and makes friends with the local children, but Aban-Khan continues to hunt him out of pure malice.

Still from Hugo the Hippo (1975)

BACKGROUND:

  • The story is inspired by an actual hippo nicknamed “Hugo”, who ate farmers’ crops before being adopted by the real Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam.
  • The film was a Hungarian/U.S. co-production. All of the animation was done on the cheap in Hungary. It was released dubbed into both languages.
  • Hugo the Hippo is co-writer/director Bill Feigenbaum’s only film credit. József Gémes went on to direct many Hungarian animated features.
  • Young Marie and Jimmy Osmond perform most of the songs on the soundtrack, along with two songs by Burl Ives and two numbers by jazz/funk session bands.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It has to be something from the wild vegetable hallucination montage: the apple samurai? Jorma and Hugo climbing onto the space butterfly and sailing through the fruity cosmos? We selected the Dalí-esque shot of three massive monolith potatoes triangulating and transfixing our heroes with the magical beams that shoot from their literal eyes as our take-home image.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Cigarette-smoking shark; cloud massacre; sliced apple ninja

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Hugo the Hippo was released to widespread indifference. Contemporary reviewers were bored and strangely dismissive, failing to catch the undercurrent of weirdness here, but a generation of youngsters scarred by the hippopotamus massacre kept Hugo‘s underground legend alive. The combination of kitschy songs, psychedelic animation, bizarre plotting, tone shifts, hallucinatory episodes, and the inimitable Paul Lynde as an evil hippo-hating vizier blend to create a children’s film gone awry in all the most delightful ways.


Short clip from Hugo the Hippo

COMMENTS: We might adopt the lyrics from the opening Continue reading 281. HUGO THE HIPPO (1975)